Where You Can Find Rare Japanese Craft Beer in NYC
Expressing exactly how much the Japanese love beer is not easy, even if their reputation for drinking the stuff is not as established as the Belgians with their beer monks and centuries of brewing history, the Germans with their claim on the world's oldest brewery and Oktoberfest, or the Americans with our penchant for chugging Bud Lights by the 30-pack and willingness to shell out $30 or more for a corked bottle of esoteric microbrew.
As our own boozy and debauched travels in Japan can confirm, though, beer is unofficially the national beverage there.
Cold beer is sold by uniformed workers pushing carts down aisles of train cars and from vending machines in hotel lobbies. In convenience stores it's available 24 hours a day, seven days a week with no laws prohibiting you from drinking it on the streets, in the parks, or on the trains (though doing so can be frowned upon). Hell, you can even get a beer at Burger King.
And anyone who's been to a stateside Japanese restaurant has encountered at least one of the dominant Japanese brewers; Asahi, Kirin and Sapporo are all readily available at Japanese joints around the country. (Suntory is another big player in the Japanese macrobrew scene, but it's pretty uncommon here.) These beers are excellent session beers, easy to drink and best served one after another in the presence of good company and plenty of edamame and other otsumami.
But Asashi, Kirin, and Sapporo in Japan play the same role as Budweiser, Coors, and Miller here in the U.S. And just like here at home, beneath the corporate macrobrewing machine in Japan lies a thriving craft beer industry.
After the Japanese beer market became deregulated in 1994, hundreds of microbreweries bubbled up across Japan including plenty of award-winners such as Ise Kadoya, Yo-Ho Brewing Co., Coedo, Minoh, and Biard Brewing Company, just to name a few.
In New York, where all alcohol sold in bars must be purchased from a licensed distributor, don't expect to find every Japanese craft brew under the rising sun. For example, one of our favorite Japanese micros, Yona Yona ale from Yo-Ho Brewing Co., is exceptionally tough to come by (New Beer Distributors on the Lower East Side purveys it, but we may have recently got our paws on the last cans the place will have for a while; the beer's importer apparently stopped shipping to the U.S.).
But you can still find a sizable selection of Japanese microbrew as long as you look in the right spots. In your search, you may notice that NYC bars and restaurants are more or less saturated by one brewer, Kiuchi Brewery, whose Hitachino Nest label you may recognize by its stocky owl mascot.
Ben Wiley, who owns the Brooklyn bars Mission Dolores, The Owl Farm, and Bar Great Harry (and the soon-to-open Glorietta Baldy in Bed-Stuy) and once lived in Japan, says there are not many Japanese craft beers that are legally distributed in New York, and getting kegs of the stuff is a logistical hurdle made more difficult by the finicky, temperature-sensitive nature of unpasteurized craft beer. "The only one that seems to do it is Hitachino," he says. "I'm not sure if there are any others."
Wiley tries to keep a keg of Hitachino on tap at one of his establishments at all times; you'll usually find it at Bar Great Harry.
Hit the next page for a short list of spots to drink Japanese craft beer in New York City, including spots that go beyond Hitachino.